Linkspams, and Writing What You Don’t Know

Courtesy of Miss Turdle, here are  two handy guides for tastefully writing characters of colour and LGBTQ* characters.

Read, when you think you’re finished, read them all again. Read them however many times it takes you to get all the information to sink in.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the phenomenon of “Writing What You Don’t Know” (WWYDK) or, “Can a member of the dominant culture write about a member of a minority culture?”

“Write what you know,” is a good place to start writing. If you’re familiar with the ins and outs of a job, it’s easy to stick a character into that profession. If you know something about being a middle class white kid in the American midwest, then you can take that experience and put it on a page. Writing what you know can be a great starting point.

However, I don’t think it should be the only avenue you ever explore.

Yes, seriously, I have heard folks say that writers should only write what they know, and if you want my honest-to-goodness, completely uncensored opinion: that’s a load of shit.

Let’s take this to its logical extreme. If I were going to write a book about people like me, they would all be geeky, white, middle-class, cis, disabled, unemployed Canadian lesbian women who stayed glued to their computer monitors for most of the day, writing, surfing the web, occasionally playing with their dogs.

You know what that is? Boring, that’s what it is.

Okay, let’s say that I’m not that specific, and I can just write about white cisgender disabled lesbians, here are people that I can’t write about:

  • Men
  • able-bodied people
  • anyone who isn’t a lesbian
  • anyone who isn’t white
  • trans* people in general (some of whom are included under the first category)

You get the idea, right?

It’s just silly to suggest that a writer only write what they know. I don’t know about you, but I interact with plenty of people on a daily basis who aren’t like me. My dad and brothers are all men, my mom isn’t disabled, my entire family is Christian, and the members of my immediate family are all heterosexual. It would be impossible to accurately portray my experiences without at least making reference to these people, and the same would go for any character I’ve created.

Now, having said that, I will say that writing what you don’t know carries a high possibility that you will fuck it up, you will fuck it up royally, ESPECIALLY if you are a member of a dominant culture writing about a member of a minority culture.

See, for instance, the many, many, many instances of heterosexual men and women writing gay and lesbian characters simply because “Girl on Girl/Guy on Guy is Hot” or the white writers (and I myself am a white writer) who write characters of colour like ZOMG SO EXOTIC!

Is it really any wonder that certain communities get so sick and tired of this sort of thing?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are writers that I want to serve a “never write about these characters again. Ever,” notice (Orson Scott Card, I’m looking at you and your butchering of Hamlet). These are people that Fangs for the Fantasy gives a “pass at writing X people” because the depiction of X is so horrible that they would rather the author not include them at all.

Yes, you read that right, being erased is preferable to a horrible attempt at inclusion.

But, you know, I wouldn’t want to be the one to pass that sort of ban (which is pretty ridiculous, now that you think about it) because then we wouldn’t have Jim C. Hines’ amazing Princess series (Jim C. Hines is made of awesome, seriously) nor Ellen Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword (because it had men in it, bisexual men) Vanyel (Vanyel has his share of problems, but he’s still awesome), or any series that isn’t set on a monolithic planet (except Jane Fletcher’s Calaeno series, which takes place on an all-female planet, actually, that’s not entirely true, but that’s a spoiler).

In other words, media as we know it would die.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of shit out there, and all the shit out there adds to the big steaming pile of [insert your -ism word here], and sometimes it seems like there’s so much of it that you probably think “is all this crap worth it for a few good portrayals?” And to be honest, sometimes I’m not so sure, but it’s a lot like Yahtzee’s (of Zero Punctuation’s fame) sequel dilemma, where he states that he’d like to make all video game sequels illegal–which means he’d have to sacrifice Silent Hill 2, one of his favourite games. And, you know, I’ve played plenty of bad sequels (Parasite Eve 2 can GTFO) but I’ve also played lots of good sequels–currently Devil Survivor 2, Virtue’s Last Reward, before those, Persona 3 and 4, and I swear I am the only person alive who actually liked Chrono Cross, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones–I could go on all day listing sequels that I enjoyed, even though nothing really compares to popping in something like Fire Emblem for the first time and being like “HOLY SHIT! WHAT IS THAT BEAUTIFUL MUSIC COMING FROM MY GBA?!”

Anyways, as much as I’d really like to strangle people who put out things like the tarot deck in my last post or the discrimflipped Out in the post before that, I’ll just settle for poking fun at them and urging you not to buy them while supporting awesome authors like Sarah Diemer, who is currently doing a lesbian YA extravaganza called Project Unicorn (because lesbians in YA are almost mythical and non-existent, although some would argue the non-existent part).

And no one has cooler hair than her. Seriously, the pink! It sparkles!

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